Saturday, June 28, 2014

Alfaro Family Vineyards – Corralitos, California

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I have been on the hunt for California Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley and plan to do so again during the Independence Day Weekend. So this past weekend decided to visit a couple wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains and say “Hello!” to a fellow ICC alumnus and fellow Certified Sommelier who works at Alfaro Family Vineyards. In June it is very common for the California Coast to experience a lot of morning fog but it usually burns off by noon, but during my visit we didn’t see very much blue in the sky.

Alfaro Family Vineyards is on the south side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, opposite side of the Silicon Valley, tucked away on the off-beaten path in the small town of Corralitos 17 miles from Santa Cruz and 20 miles from Monterey. It is an agricultural area that has been more well-known for growing apples and strawberries but some are now being converted to a more profitable crop – wine grapes. West of Corralitos are flatlands leading to the Pacific Ocean only 3 to 5 miles away and on the east are foothills to the Santa Cruz Mountain that rise to about 1,000 feet. 

The close proximity to the Pacific Ocean is ideal for Burgundian grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which provides cool evenings and mornings to counter balance the warm summer days.

The Corralitos Wine Trail

Alfaro Family Vineyards is part of the “Corralitos Wine Trail” which was initiated by Craig Handley, proprietor of Pleasant Valley Vineyards. The wine trail is home to 4 other small family-owned wineries including Natal Vineyards, Nicholson Vineyards, Pleasant Valley Vineyards, and Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery.

The Winery and Vineyards



Alfaro Family Vineyards was founded by Richard Alfaro and his wife Mary Kay who had previously been the proprietor of Alfaro’s Micro-Bakery in Watsonville.  In 1988 he sold it to Sarah Lee which provided the means to found purchase a 75-acre property, 56 of which are now under vine, which had previously been an apple orchard. In addition to his estate fruit he also sources Pinot Noir grapes from Garys’ Vineyard and Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Franscioni Vineyard in Monterey County, an unnamed vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, Gemelli Vineyard in Cienega Valley and vineyards in Corralitos. They produce two lines: Alfaro Family Vineyard and Corralitos with a total production is about 4,500 cases per year.

The Wines


The winery has indoor and outdoor granite tasting bars with two adjacent picnicking areas overlooking the vines. 


2012 Corralitos Chardonnay


This is a clear white wine, straw-yellow on medium- concentration and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of caramelized apples, canned pears, fresh pineapple with a hint of caramel, popcorn and butter. On the palate it is dry with additional notes of peach skins and orange zest with medium+ acidity, medium body and a medium+ length finish. This is a well-balanced California-style Chardonnay and I brought a bottle home for $20.

2013 Pinot Noir Rosé

This is a salmon-pink wine with medium- intensity and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of strawberries, cranberries and a hint of dried roses and spice. On the palate it is light, crisp and refreshing with medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium+ length spicy finish. This wine sells for only $15 per bottle.

2011 Schultze Family Vineyard Pinot Noir

This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and a hint of spice. On the palate it is fruit forward with fruit up front and clove, pepper and wine in the background.  It is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.

2012 Mary Katherine Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Mary Katherine Vineyard is named after the vintner’s wife and it lies at the summit of the property, at between 700 and 850 feet in elevation on a steep terrace with an ocean view. The vineyard is planted to about 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. In 2008 the vines were planed on their own rooted vines selected from a Grand Cru Vosne Romanee Monopole vineyard.

This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of black cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, cloves and a hint of pepper. It is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. I preferred this wine to the previous and yet it sells for $5 less at $35 per bottle.

2012 Gimelli Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel


The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Gimelli Vineyards located in Grass Valley, part of the Gavilan Mountain Range 12 miles southwest of Hollister, California along Cienega road.

This is a dark red wine, dark purple at the core to magenta at the rim with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of raspberry jam, raisins, dates, and bramble bush. On the palate it is dry but fruit forward, very soft on entry but then medium tannins take a grip, it has moderate acidity, medium+ body and alcohol with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $22 per bottle.

2011 Billy K Merlot


This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dark cherries, minor hints of mocha and cherry-vanilla. On the palate it is dry and fruit forward, very soft with medium tannins, medium acidity and a moderate length finish. This is a fairly simple wine that sells for $30 per bottle.

2012 Corralitos Syrah

This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries, dried herbs and black pepper. On the palate it is dry with medium to medium+ tannin, it is medium bodied and moderately complex with a medium length peppery finish. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.

2011 Ryan Spenser Vineyard Syrah

The Ryan Spencer Vineyard was planted in 2001 and is named after Richard Alfaro’s son. It is comprised of 7 acres divided into 6 different blocks on a very steep hill between 450 and 800 feet in elevation. Grandma & Grampa’s blocks are located on the lower part of the hill and are planted to 4 different Dijon clones of Chardonnay, and Pommard clones 4 and 5 Pinot Noir. Billy K block is planted to one acre of Merlot divided between clones 343, 347 and 181. La Escalera is a terraced hillside block planted to Hermitage clones of Syrah. On the top of the hill is Mrs. K's block, which is planted to Syrah clones 470, 877 and 174 and has a vine density of over 2300 vines per acre.

This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries, lavender, sandalwood, black pepper and a hint of tar. On the palate it is dry and soft on entry but then the tannins kick in with a lot of grip (medium+), it is medium bodied with a moderate length peppery finish. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery

420 Hames Road

Corralitos, CA 95076

Phone: 831-761-1174 (Tasting Room)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fog Crest Vineyard - Sebastapol, California

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The Winery and Vineyards

 

Fog Crest Vineyard is a family-owned 30-acre site located in the Russian River Valley on a ridge above the Santa Rosa plain. Like many of its neighbors the Estate was previously home to apple orchards. It was established in 1997 by James and Rosalind Manoogian  and for five years the Fog Crest Chardonnay was made as a vineyard designate by Stryker Sonoma Winery. Then in 2005 Fog Crest Vineyard produced their first vintage under their own label. The wines are crafted by winemaker Daniel Moore under the direction of consulting winemaker David Ramey.



Fog Crest’s vineyards are planted on hillsides with a south/east exposure which provide for both excellent drainage and the full morning sun which is optimum for growing premium wine grapes in the cool Russian River Valley. The vineyard soils are dominated by the Wilson Grove formation, a fine-grained marine sandstone that provides Goldridge – Sebastopol sandy loam soils. Together, the exposure, soils and climate to create a premium wine growing terroir that makes the area ideal for their vineyard planted to Dijon clones 95 and 548 of and Dijon clones 115, 777 and 828, and Pommard and Mt. Eden clones of Pinot Noir with a total acreage is 5.5 acres of Chardonnay and 3.6 acres of Pinot Noir.



Fog Crest Vineyard is sort of an “off the radar” winery that has yet to be widely recognized as its tasting room opened this year. But after visiting and enjoying the beautiful view, the lovely wines and top notch hospitality I am sure they will soon make a name for themselves as a “must visit” premium producer in the Russian River Valley.



The Wines



While visiting the tasting room I sampled the following wines:

2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear pink wine with moderate intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate- intense aromas of strawberries, cranberries and subtle notes of dried roses. On the palate it is dry with medium+ acid, light bodied, and moderate complexity with moderate length spicy finish. This wine sells for $21 per bottle.



2010 Elevage Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium intense aromas of peach skin, oxidized apples, lemon custard, oxidized orange peels and caramelized pears with minor notes of graphite and pencil shavings. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a medium+ length finish. Out of the three Chards I tasted this was the most unique and complex with aromas and flavors outside the box of your standard California Chardonnay. This wine sells for $45 per bottle.



2011 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium intense aromas of peach, yellow apples, pear, creamed corn and just a hint of butter and popcorn. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a medium+ length finish. This is definitely a California-style Chardonnay and yet it is well balanced and not overly oaky or buttery. This wine sells for $39 per bottle.



2012 Laguna West Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium intense aromas of peach, yellow apples, pear, with minor notes of butter and popcorn. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a medium+ length finish. This is similar to the previous wine but the flavors are not as well integrated and harmonized, but it was recently bottled and was not yet on the tasting list so it may need some more time. This wine sells for $39 per bottle.



2011 Laguna West Pinot Noir

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of raspberries, cranberries, tart cherries with hints of cola, clove, and spice. On the palate it is dry with medium- tannins, medium+ acidity, medium bodied and a long finish. This wine sells for $39 per bottle.



2011 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of raspberries, cranberries, ripe cherries with hints of cola, clove, and a touch more spice than the previous wine. On the palate it is dry with medium- tannins, medium+ acidity, medium bodied and a long finish. This wine sells for $49 per bottle.



2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of strawberry preserves, spiced plums, root beer, a hint of smoke and cola. It is dry with medium tannins, medium+ acidity and a medium length finish. This was my favorite wine in the line-up so I brought one home for $49.



To visit or for more information:

Fog Crest Vineyard

7602 Occidental Rd

Sebastopol, CA 95472

Phone: (800) 931-2906

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dutton Estate Winery - Sebastapol, California




The small town of Sebastopol was once a dominant apple-growing region and I have heard people moan, groan and complain about a lot of the orchards being torn up and replaced with vineyards. But the fact is you can’t really make a dime selling apples and it is prime real estate for growing some of California’s best Pinot Noir.  


I visited recently revisited the Russian River Valley during the Memorial Day weekend and tasted at two wineries, Twomey Cellars and Arista Winery. This past weekend I decided to return and check out two more - Dutton Estate Winery and Fog Crest Vineyards.
The Winery and Vineyards
Dutton Estate Winery was founded by Joe and Tracy Dutton in 1995. Both sides of the family have an agricultural heritage in Sonoma County. In fact, The Dutton family has been farming in Sonoma County for five generations and Tracy’s great-grandparents began farming apples in Sebastopol in the 1920’s. In 1964 Dutton Ranch was founded in Joe’s father Warren Dutt and today it farms 1150 acres of grapes and 150 acres of apples, all within the Green Valley-Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Joe and his brother Steve manage the vineyards at Dutton Ranch while Tracy manages the winery. Since 2002 Mat Gustafson has been the winemaker and he also creates those released under the Sebastopol Vineyards label as well. The also sell their grapes to numerous well-known and highly respected wineries including Duckhorn, Patz & Hall, Walt Wines, Kistler Vineyards, Hess Collection, Ernst Vineyards, Heitz Vineyard, B Cellars, Girard Winery, La Rochelle Winery, MacRostie Winery & Vineyards and many others.

The tasting room is located within a lovely house surrounded by beautiful gardens. You can enjoy tasting their wines at the wine bar or on one of the picnic tables that are surrounded by a picket fence overlooking the vineyards.

2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Blushing Sisters

This is a clear pink wine with moderate intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate- intense aromas of strawberries, cranberries and subtle notes of dried roses. On the palate it is dry with medium+ acid, medium body, and moderate complexity with lingering spicy notes on the finish. This wine sells for $15.95 per 375 ml bottle.

2012 Dutton Palms Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

Dutton Palms Vineyard, planted in 1991, is east facing and lies within the coolest part of the Green Valley. The hills and valley floor of Dutton Palms Vineyard consist of the traditional sandy loam Gold Ridge Soil, which is most prominent in the Green Valley and Russian River appellations. Dutton Palms is planted from the Chardonnay clone Warren Dutton used in 1967 to plant the original “Shop Block” Chardonnay vineyard at Dutton Ranch (Dutton Clone).

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium intense aromas of apples, pears and subtle lemon-lime notes and on the palate it has additional notes of peach and a hint of pie crust. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a long finish. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.

2012 Kyndall’s Reserve Chardonnay

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium intense aromas of baked apple, canned pears, peaches and minor tropical notes followed by subtle notes of cinnamon, cardamom, a hint of butter, caramel and marshmallow. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a long finish. This is more of a “California style” Chardonnay than the previous wine but it is well balanced and not overly oaky. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.

2011 Karmen Isabella Pinot Noir


This is a clear red wine, bright ruby at the core to pink at the rim with  moderate+ intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of fresh strawberries and cranberries with a hint of smoke and a touch of spice with additional notes of clove and cola on the palate. It is dry but fruit forward with medium+ acidity, medium body and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.

2011 Manzana Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Manzana Vineyard is located next to the Dutton Palms Chardonnay Vineyard, located in the heart of the Green Valley. Manzana’s hillside vineyard is east facing, which is an optimal location for growing Pinot Noir. Planted to clone Dijon 828 in 2001, this vineyard produces wine of red fruits with a bold luscious mouth-feel. The vines planted in the Gold Ridge type soil historically produce wines of this consistent character.

This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to pink at the rim with  moderate+ intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of fresh strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and rhubarb followed by notes of clove, pepper and cola. It is dry but more intense and concentrated fruit than the previous wine, it has medium+ acidity, medium body and a long finish. I brought a bottle of this wine home for $47.

To visit or for more information:

Dutton Estate Winery
8757 Green Valley Rd
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Phone: 707- 829-9463